A vicious battle is being fought inside the Labour Party over a dizzyingly complex series of leaks, rumours and court cases.
It is the shadow of the shadow of real struggle. But it’s also revealing about why Labour fails.
Last week Jeremy Corbyn put his name to a document that accuses “senior paid employees of the party” of “sabotage” during the 2017 general election. It said Labour officials were uncooperative and refused to allocate resources to winnable target seats.
This has fed into the debate around an internal Labour inquiry, chaired by Martin Forde QC. The inquiry follows the leak of an 860-page dossier that contained WhatsApp chats and emails from senior executives at Labour’s headquarters.
It claimed anti-Corbyn officials had not only obstructed efforts to combat antisemitism but hampered the leadership, potentially depriving Corbyn of a term in Downing Street.
Alleged comments from officials in the report include discussion of “hanging and burning” Corbyn. Another hopes that a young member “dies in a fire” while a staffer suggests they tipped off a journalist about Diane Abbott crying in toilets.
Corbyn’s allegations of sabotage were met with derision by the Labour right. In some quarters there was overt admission that it would have been right to do everything possible to obstruct Corbyn.
Journalist John Rentoul wrote, “The problem with Corbyn was never that he was unelectable, but that he would have been a disaster if he had been elected.”
Rentoul, once described as “probably the most high‑profile defender of Tony Blair’s record in the British media”, is a reliable guide to how the Labour right thinks.
By Corbyn being a “disaster” they mean he might have upset the rich and powerful. And he might have encouraged the idea that there was an alternative to business as usual and imperialist war.
Corbyn was undoubtedly undermined by the right.
Joe Ryle previously worked for Labour. He wrote last week that in the early days after Corbyn’s election “one aide aptly renamed the party’s HQ from its official name—Southside—to the ‘Darkside’.” Ryle said the term “quickly caught on—reinforcing a sense of them and us”.
He also spoke of “press releases regularly blocked from going out, staff members briefing against Corbyn’s office, an almost constant refusal to share content on the party’s social media platforms and the coordination of staff resignations to damage the party”.
But what nobody on the Labour left seems to be asking is why, given all this evidence, Corbyn and his allies did not immediately start a push to drive out the saboteurs and their colleagues in parliament.
The answer, which reveals a key part of Labourism, is that “unity” between left and right is central to Labour’s electoral project. Corbyn and others, such as Unite union leader Len McCluskey, blocked moves towards real reselection and accountability of MPs.
The left meekly talked about unity while its enemies were prepared to destroy the party rather than allow Corbyn to win.
The concentration on the disgusting internal manoeuvres by the right obscures more basic points.
After the 2017 election Corbynism became less radical, even less centred on resistance and organisation in workplaces or on the streets. Instead the left swallowed the idea that Corbyn had to be “prime ministerial”. Again this was typical of Labourism—elections are what matters.
Socialists should always be for the Labour left against the Labour right. But they also have to recognise that, even at its best, Labourism is not going to transform society.
A left that couldn’t effectively confront the right in its own party can hardly deal with the pressures of global capital and the state.
The obsession with Corbyn-nostalgia matters because big struggles are coming. Every day there is more news of job cuts and frequent predictions of mass unemployment.
The need for resistance focused on the workplaces and the streets, not parliament, is more urgent than ever.